Friday, March 31, 2006

Chocolate Pudding

What better way to use milk that's going to go to waste or spoil in the next day or two. And who doesn't love chocolate? This recipe is terrific because it is so simple yet so wholesome and satisfying. This recipe comes from Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites which is one of three Moosewood Collective cookbooks I own. Their recipes are easy to make and follow. Their recipes some times call for unusual ingredients but I love that they sometimes recommend using canned goods which makes life and cooking easier! All the recipes I have tried from their cookbooks have been successful, even in my first attempt.

Cooking time: 20 minutes
Messy factor: low

-3 tbsp cornstarch
-3 tbsp sugar
-2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa
-2 cups skim milk
-1 tsp vanilla extract

In a small saucepan, combine the dry ingredients until mixed well. Do get the clumps out. Add the milk. Cook on medium heat until the pudding comes to a boil, stirring constantly. FYI, it is not a traditional 'boil' per say, it's more that you see big chocolatey bubbles bursting. Lower heat and simmer for a few more minutes. Stir in the vanilla and then pour pudding into your favorite dish. Serve warm or chilled.

My modifications and suggestions
-2 cups 1% milk
-Used Ghirardelli Unsweetened Cocoa

Be sure to stir well, not casually, and with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula. Ensure the stirring utensil reaches the bottom of the pan so that the chocolate does not stick to the bottom of the pan and burn. I prefer wooden spoons because of its ability to scrape the bottom of the pan well.

I bet this pudding would be even more amazing if I used whole milk.

I love eating this with fresh berries and/or bananas. I sometimes eat chocolate pudding for breakfast.

Eat and enjoy!

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Natural abundance

Raise your hand if you know what fruits and vegetables, etc. are in season? Doesn't it seem like many food items are in season all year round because many grocery stores make them available all year round? I can't stand it because it's confusing and worse yet I think grocery stores intentionally do this. Yeah, things are available all year round but that doesn't mean that fruits and veggies that peak in the summer should be available or eaten in January. It's not the same and it doesn't taste good.

Do you think if children were served fruits and veggies in the appropriate seasons they would like them better? I've been pondering this...

Anyway, I sure didn't know what was in season until a former co-worker sent out this e-mail which I use all the time and carry with me to the grocery store.

"To eat from the local foodshed year round, you must know the growing season. Here is a list of some ingredients and foods that express the lunar months of traditional farmers. This list is adapted from Jessica Prentice's soon-to-be-published Thirteen Moons: Food and the Hunger Connection."

January or February
-Root veggies, braised meats, sauerkraut, winter greens, dried beans, citrus fruits

February or March
-Same as above, plus corned beef, cabbage, asparagus, kiwi

March or April
-Spring tonic greens such as nettles and sorrel, asparagus, artichokes, eggs, lamb

April or May
-Lots of milk, butter and cream, fresh milk cheeses, baby carrots, new potatoes, young beets, snap peas, rhubarb

May or June
-Summer berries, cherries, early summer squash, shelling peas, roasting chicken, lettuces, plums, salmon

June or July
-Honey, sweet corn, tomatoes, fresh lavender, green beans, apricots, salmon, buffalo, beef, homemade ice cream

July or August
-Basil and other fresh herbs, eggplant, peppers, heirloom tomatoes, peaches, nectarines, salmon, cucumbers, melons, grapes

August or September
-Same as above, plus early winter squash and sweet potatoes, okra

September or October
-Pumpkins, potatoes, apples, pears, last of the season's salmon, oyster, figs

October or November
-Pork, Asian pears, persimmons, pomegranates, winter squash, celery

November or December
-Turkey, chestnuts, winter squash, winter greens, celery, rutabagas, parsnips, turnips, beets

December or January
-Roasts, meat stews and soups, Dungeness crab, cabbage, grapefruit

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Indian Spice Must Haves

Over the years I have heard folks talk about how overwhelming cooking Indian food can be or the variety and number of spices that are needed for a dish or how long it takes. Really, it's not at all complicated. Perhaps it is unfamiliar but not hard, I promise. Once you've made a recipe once or twice it becomes much faster and easier, and then you can become creative!

So I thought I would write about the most basic spices one needs to cook Indian dishes.

In my kitchen, you will find the following:

-Curry powder
-Garam Masala
-Ground coriander
-Ground cumin
-Mustard seeds
-Red chili powder and flakes
-Turmeric powder

If you have any of the above and they were purchased from an American grocery store, toss them because you will not get anywhere near the flavor that one would expect of Indian food. If you've made a dish and have wondered why it does not taste like the dish you had at your local Indian restaurant, this would be why. I recently compared American vs. Indian grocery store ground cumin and there is a huge difference in color and fragrance. The American version was cream/yellow colored while the Indian version is a rich brown earthy color. And the Indian cumin was fragrant while the American cumin was scentless.

And there is difference between American vs. Indian grocery store chili powder. Indian grocery store chili powder has more kick so if a recipe calls for it, halve the amount. Your mouth and tongue will thank you.

Go to an Indian store with the above list and I'm sure the owner will set you up nicely. You will also spend a lot less money and get a lot more spice.

So let's say you use a recipe that calls for an ingredient that I didn't list. No worries. Do without, add a little more cumin and coriander. You'll end up with something nice.

With these ingredients, you can curry-up any vegetable in 30 minutes or less!

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Benares-style Cauliflower and Potatoes

Last night I made a wonderful recipe from the 1000 classic indian recipes cookbook edited by Wendy Hobson. My mom gifted me this cookbook so that I could expand my Indian food repertoire. My mom does not own cookbooks. Everything she knows about cooking she learned from her mother, by observing and cooking with others, and experimenting. It's all stored in her head! But this cookbook spoke to her. I recall her saying "I understand this cookbook, so you should too!"

I chose this recipe because it included potatoes. I just adore potatoes in all forms because they provide such warmth and comfort. Potatoes have the wonderful ability to take on the flavor around it and this dish is no exception. This recipe turned out to be aromatic, so full of flavor, and mild (in the spice level) -- it is comfort food for the health conscious.

-3 tbsp water
-1 onion, halved and then quartered
-1/2 inch fresh ginger root, peel and chopped
-6 garlic cloves, chopped
-1 tbsp coriander seeds

All other ingredients
-3 tbsp oil
-1 tsp cumin seeds
-1 tsp carraway seeds
-1 tbsp garam masala
-1 tsp ground turmeric
-1 cauliflower, cut into florets
-2 large potatoes, cubed
-1 cup water

My modifications
-Substituted 1 tbsp coriander seeds with 2.5 tsp ground coriander
-Substituted 1 tsp cumin seeds with .5 tsp ground cumin
-Did not add carraway seeds
-Used 8 small golden creamer potatoes
-Used 2 tbsp oil rather than 3
-Added 1.5-1.75 cups of water

Use a blender to make the puree and set aside. Because the onions, ginger and garlic are going in the grinder, do not worry about how 'nicely' you chop them, coursely is just fine. Heat the oil on medium heat and sautee the cumin and carraway seeds for a minute or two, stirring continuously to prevent burning. Add the puree and sautee for 5 minutes, again stirring continuously. Add the garam masala and turmeric and stir for another minute or two. Add the cauliflower florets, potatoes, salt to taste, and water. Bring dish to a boil, cover and simmer for 8-10 minutes, until vegetables are tender, stirring periodically.

Note well: I found the veggies to be raw after 10 minutes. I simmered for 25 minutes and came out with perfect results. Serve with store bought naan or my personal favorite, corn tortillas. Also be patient and do take the time to cook the spices as the recipe indicates. Cooking the spices is what gives this dish its flavor and by undercooking you will miss out on it!

I think this dish is great for beginners. It will turn out even and smooth because of the puree. Some of the spices are in the puree or are added to it. In some Indian cooking, there is no puree base and the spices are added directly to the other ingredients which can sometimes lead to a dish that is unevenly coated or the dreaded 'raw' taste of spice.

Eat and enjoy!

Thursday, March 23, 2006

What do those numbers mean?

What do those little stickers with numbers on your fruit mean? Well, I found out. Those numbers indicate whether the fruit is conventionally or organically grown or genetically engineered! A friend of mine passed on this link to me, so I'm passing it on to you.

"[T]he sticker labels on fruit: The numbers tell you how the fruit was grown. Conventionally grown fruit has four digits; organically grown fruit has five and starts with a nine; genetically engineered has five numbers and starts with an eight."


My philosophy...

I like to pronounce what I eat so I won't buy anything where I can't pronounce the ingredients. In my opinion, if you can't read it, it was not meant to be consumed and it's probably not good for you. High fructose and hydrogenated anything is also a red flag for me. The fewer the ingredients the better.

I previously worked in an office that had a lot of food around so I came up with this simple rule for myself. If it was home made, I could have some but if it wasn't, then I couldn't. This simple rule helped reduce the bad stuff I was eating significantly because most things in the office were store bought. Don't get me wrong, I did cheat on occasion, I couldn't help myself. Everything in moderation.

I like to buy fresh, local, and organic produce when possible. However, I am not opposed to using canned or frozen goods. I am fond of canned diced and whole tomatoes and corn. I also like frozen corn and peas. Personally, I think it's insulting that grocery stores even try to sell to those pathetic looking tomatoes in the fall, winter, and early spring. Tomatoes are a hot weather fruit and they really do not taste or look good in any other season. I recognize that many countries and green houses have weather that is conducive to all year tomato growth but they're picked early, stored somewhere oxygen-less, and then brought to grocery stores. Many fruits and veggies are not available all year round and shouldn't be marketed as such. I mean, just last weekend at the grocery store I saw nectarines! Nectarines in March!? Who's heard of such a thing? They are a July/August fruit. There's something wrong with that. Hence, the use of canned and frozen produce in the off season and I still come out with really tasty results.

I don't believe in fat free, sugar free, sugar substitutes, etc. Personally, food that is not made from real ingredients is just not as tasty. Folks trick themselves by eating something 'light' or 'fat free' or 'low whatever' but end up eating more because they think they can and because what they're eating is just not as satisfying. So go ahead and eat the real thing because it's likely that you'll be satisfied sooner and eat less.

I believe that healthful tasty food does not have to take a lot of time, just a little creativity and planning.

Why a food diary?

I've decided to start a food diary. No, this blog is definitely not to keep track what I eat or my caloric intake but to write about my trials and tribulations with cooking. I adore cooking, and eating even more, so why not write about it? For me, cooking is such fun and so relaxing. There is nothing more enjoyable or gratifying then pouring over recipes, deciding what to make with what you have in the house, and then running away with it all.

My love of cooking and eating comes from my mom who is a wonderful, creative, if not exacting cook. Growing up, I remember coming home to a tasty home cooked meal on most nights. Meals included everything from curry chicken and other Indian delicacies (both vegetarian and non) to stir frys to baked fish to simple baked chicken and mashed potatoes. She even introduced me to shark and swordfish which is so tasty! I appreciate how much thought and care she puts into her meals and all the new foods and flavors she introduced me to.

It was definitely a rare thing if she brought home McDonald's or Taco Bell or pizza (which I did look forward to because it was so rare). I never once had a TV dinner until I went over to a friend's in 6th grade. Walking through our front door, my nose would tingle with the wonderful smells of spices and fragrances, and my stomach would respond with a low growl in anticipation of our evening meal. All of this and she worked outside the home too! I dreaded when she left for lengthy trips because my dad cannot cook to save his life. That's a bit of an exaggeration but I was glad when our neighbors took us out to eat or brought us home cooked meals.

My mom grew up only with home cooked meals and was cooking since she was a teenager. Because her mom was tending to the farm, she was put in charge of cooking. So it should have been no surprise to me, that during my summers off in high school, that my mom put me to work. Over a few weekends during the summer, she showed me how to prepare and make basic Indian dishes. When the week came around, my mom would call me around 2 or 3 p.m. and tell me that I was responsible for dinner. I have to say that I was unresponsive and rebellious pupil. I probably flipped my hair and stormed out of the kitchen on more than a few occasions in frustration or some other teenage emotion. But hey, I learned a lot and it has made me the lover of food and cooking that I am today.

Any how, I left my job in January so I have a lot of time on my hands. One thing I missed when I was working was cooking wholesome simple (and complicated) tasty meals. When I worked I didn't have time to experiment and try new things. When you get home from work at 7 p.m., you don't have time or necessarily want to be in the kitchen for 1.5 hours before you eat! You grab the first thing available which in my case was pasta or a can of beans to make tacos or tostadas. So I've been taking advantage of my time off to make tasty, healthy (and sometimes unhealthy), flavorful food. I've made both difficult high maintenance dishes (risotto) to more simple dishes (baked penne). I've made a point of trying at least one new recipe per week and twisting existing recipes to make them new. All of this I've enjoyed. I hope that I am able to keep up this level of cooking when I go back to work or at the very least learn how to make recipes manageable so that they can be prepared after a day of work.